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What is writing?

October 9, 2020

I have a “professional” Facebook page, along with my private one. You know, one of those things people tell writers they must have: a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account.

I hardly ever use the Twitter account. By and large I agree with Tilly when she (I) said “TweetsR4Twats.” As for the Facebook page, I mostly use that to share my rants. Almost all the people who like and follow that page are friends, with a few friends of friends thrown in. Unlike this blog which is now followed by considerably more complete strangers than friends.

The Facebook rants usually get a few likes and occasional comments along the lines of “Well said”, which is always nice to hear.

Yesterday, after I posted my rant about the veep debate, someone (one of those friends of friends) left this comment:

“Your whole article here is absolutely brilliant – cutting edge insight married to excruciatingly sharp wit and wisdom. Thank you!! Best political and ethical commentary I’ve read in ages.”

That really did make my day.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about writing. The question I keep asking myself and have been asking myself for some time now is this: If a writer isn’t actually writing (like, you know, getting back to one of those Tilly and Roger novels), can she still call herself a writer? I mean, what exactly is writing?

As desperately as I wanted from childhood to be a writer, my idea of “writing” was of creating, of producing fiction. As this seemed an extremely unlikely career path, I opted instead to pursue work as a journalist. It might not be fiction, but at least I was earning my living by stringing words together.

When I first started out, journalism was what was known as a closed shop. You couldn’t get a job as a journalist unless you were a member of the NUJ. I have nothing against unions. In fact I’m all for them. I was quite happy to become a member of the NUJ. Problem was you couldn’t actually become a member of the NUJ unless you were working as a journalist. I could have left London, set out for the provinces to seek an entry level position with a local rag, writing about gymkhanas and church fetes, but I really didn’t want to do that. It was my cousin, then the deputy editor of a daily paper in Essex, who suggested going for a job in the trade press, as they often hired people from the relevant profession who would then acquire an NUJ card.

Which is how I ended up at Marine Week, as the title suggests, a weekly magazine about the shipping industry. There were a number of sections in the magazine: one dedicated to the technical aspects of and advancements in shipbuilding, one to which company was awarded the contract to ship what product from where to where, and the news section. I was hired to produce the latter.

Once I began getting my head around it all, this was actually quite interesting. There was the speculation that every vessel in the Soviet merchant fleet was equipped as a spy ship, protectionist measures taken by the US government (the Murphy Act, immediately dubbed “Murphy’s Law”), the death rattle of the once proud British Shipbuilders, driven to its knees by the cheaper quotes of Korean shipyards, endless strikes (unions aren’t always good) and Maggie Thatcher’s determination that there would not be a single nationalised industry left when she was finished. (And there wasn’t.) All a lot more engaging than I would have expected when I took the job.

The news section was a combination of articles created solely by me and articles submitted from various freelancers around the globe. The quality of these submitted articles varied. The ones from ex-pat Tom in Germany barely needed a word changed, whereas David, who’d lived and worked in Norway for many years used Norwegian grammar to construct sentences in English. A good chunk of the submissions from Japan and Korea went in the bin because I simply could not fathom what they were saying. (Bear in mind this was long before anyone ever dreamt of email or the internet. By the time any query was sent by post and answered the same way, whatever it was would have been old news.)

Why am I going into all this now? Because of something someone said to me at the time that I’ve never forgotten.

Marine Week had a “sister” publication, a monthly magazine called Motor Ship, a very technical magazine about building ships. I found the editorial content impenetrable. So, too, did John, the magazine’s ad manager, who was a mate of mine.

John told me he always read the news section of Marine Week, because he found it very useful when schmoozing potential advertisers. He also said he always knew when an article was written solely by me because I had such a wonderful way with words.

A wonderful way with words.

Yes, I’ve known for some time that I can turn a mean phrase. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing it, sometimes I’m well aware and well pleased with myself. For example this, from my rant about Kenosha: “these gun-toting, looking-for-trouble-makers”.

Is that what writing is? Does that make a writer? A wonderful way with words? I suppose it’s as good a definition as any. (Although there definitely are people who call themselves writers despite having a terrible way with words.)

I do know this: As I continue to struggle with trying to call myself a writer, the boost I got from words I’d strung together being described as “cutting edge insight married to excruciatingly sharp wit and wisdom” was really quite extraordinary.

Maybe I am a writer.

From → Writing

  1. Rhododave permalink

    Of course you are!!

  2. krysross permalink

    Of all our one-time circle of writer wannabees, you are the only one who really did it.

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